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What Medvedev Didn't Say

I have to admit that I didn't remember the passage from Alexis de Tocqueville that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cited in his Monday oped in The Post, written in anticipation of today's meeting with President Obama. Now a friend has helpfully sent me the passage -- which both confirms Medvedev's account and explains why he may not have wanted to quote it in full.

Here's what Medvedev said:

“Long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville predicted a great future for our two nations. So far, each country has tried to prove the truth of those words to itself and the world by acting on its own. I firmly believe that at this turn of history, we should work together.”

In “Democracy in America,” de Tocqueville did, indeed, single out America and Russia as "marked out by the will of heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe." But he also saw them rising in very different ways, with this being the starkest distinction: "The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude."

I do not believe any nation's future is absolutely determined by its past, nor by its culture. I think Russia will be a democracy someday. But with today's presidential meeting in London coming just hours after the brutal beating in Moscow of yet another human rights activist, the courageous Lev Ponomaryov, 67, it is hard not to think that de Tocqueville was on to something 170 years ago. And despite Obama's hope that today's meeting represented "the beginning of new progress" in US-Russia relations, there's no question that the potential for progress is inhibited by Russia's steady regression from its democratic reforms of the 1990s.

Here, for you de Tocqueville buffs, is his passage on the United States and Russia:

“There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and while the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed themselves in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.

“All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growth. All the others have stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these alone are proceeding with ease and celerity along a path to which no limit can be perceived. The American struggles against the obstacles that nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained by the plowshare; those of the Russian by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centers all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

By Fred Hiatt  | April 1, 2009; 2:16 PM ET
Categories:  Hiatt  | Tags:  Fred Hiatt  
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Comments

Russia beats human rights activists.
Our government beat innocent people to death.
Beat them to death.
Let me say that one more time, Hiatt: BEAT THEM TO DEATH.
So......

Posted by: TOMHERE | April 2, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

The irony is not just in the omitted passage; it is also whether the dynamism of growth that de Tocqueville sensed in both countries has run or slowed its course.

Another essential trait of today's Russia is that it is ruled as one commentator in the Moscow Times recently wrote by a "kleptocracy"; by people who are bent on grabbing as much material wealth for themselves as they can. The corollary to that is to maintain themselves in power by whatever means they can. I fear that our diplomats and political leaders do not fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the Russian elite's corruption which reaches to the very top of the system.

Posted by: Rabinovich | April 2, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

the communists merely changed their names.

Posted by: sellingpencils | April 2, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Mr. Hiatt is is a shame they beat peole. Why can't they be civilized and just taser them to death like our authorities? (Checkists if you like, look it up Mr. Russian expert) Are you suggesting that the U.S., known worldwide as the "prison nation" is so much better? Are you drinking the toxic kool-aid of American exceptionalism AGAIN?

Hypocrite? Idiot? It is hard to say which terms best fits these discredited neo-cons. Believable commentator, though, is not on the list.

Posted by: respondus | April 2, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, but I bet the Russians can't torture nearly as well as can. Slow deaths by torture courtesy of our guys in Gitmo and the real torture experts where we rendition 'em certainly puts us right up there a brutal beating to death in Moscow.

Posted by: Patriot3 | April 3, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

History makes it clear that the United States is an exceptional country. So is Russia. I find it very interesting that our current president never talks of individual freedom and liberty. This is what made America exceptional, and it is why America commands the world's respect.

Most presidents when traveling abroad either quietly or overtly make the point of American exceptionalism. We are not perfect, but we do believe that governments should serve their citizens and preserve individual liberty.

I do not think Obama considers America exceptional. I suspect he thinks it is wrong to be exceptional. I suspect individualism gets in the way of his limousine liberal concept of equality.
I expect he considers Russia and America morally equivalent. Or does he consider Russia morally superior?

Posted by: rwyoung | April 3, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who knows that de Tocqueville was writing about Tsarist Russia yet our view of modern Russia is shaped by the very people who overthrew the Tsar, a.k.a. the Bolsheviks, a.k.a. the Commies.

Context, Hiatt, is 99% of understanding. Medvedev was obviously alluding to the power and influence both countries had assumed at the time of the writing, and that both still carry into the modern era. To insert an act of violence that obviously alludes to human rights infringements seen under Communist rule says nothing but gross negligence on your part as I'm sure your well aware that the same atrocities happen in the US.

Medvedev obviously left out the warmongering part to show Russia's commitment to a peaceful coexistence with the US. Whether that occurs remains to be seen, but this is a step in the right direction.

Posted by: DixieWrecked | April 3, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

So, Alexis de Tocqueville said that Russia was about servitude and oppresion 170 years ago, and you write that "he just might have been on to something" because of events last week in Russia?

So you're dismissing dictatorship, the reigns of various murderous oppressive czars, Stalin, all of that, and saying that de Tocqueville's prediction just might be coming true now?

It's hard to parse such a deep muddling of history. Russia has had such astonishing oppression since 170 years ago that to single out some lingering authoritarian tendencies of the current elected government as the only time they've exhibited what de Tocqueville was talking about is...

Well, it's the Washington Post. Russia bad, US good. Except of course when speaking of Obama, who is bad.

It's just a BIT more complex than that.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | April 4, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

What Medvedev Didn't Say

Those words of Medvedev certainly reflected on his own personal perceptions of two worlds displaying what he himself may have understood . Yet in my honest opinion all people were created in the image of the Lord, so we need to be mindful and respect that freedom to prevail should be respected within the guidelines that all fairness be exercised and expected by all. And that dire consequences within legitimate reasonings will be expected should they not adhere to expected expectations required within. None should be unjustly mistreated for the selfish ways and innuendos of another for no legitimate reason. Unity and on one accord to forward the best for all within an acceptable protocol should be expected from all that our world progress into maturity with unity and the best interests to make it a better world should be the mindset of a purposed driven society regardless of what country is involved. A world that stands together is far more better than a world that stands apart. Our destiny to prevail shouldn’t be controlled by one that don’t even know his own.

Posted by: Nisey01 | April 5, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

What Medvedev Didn't Say
A correction within from previous statement. Thank you.

Those words of Medvedev certainly reflected on his own personal perceptions of two worlds displaying what he himself may have understood . Yet in my honest opinion all people were created in the image of the Lord, so we need to be mindful and respect that freedom to prevail should be respected within the guidelines that all fairness be exercised and respected by all. And that dire consequences within legitimate reasonings will be expected should they not adhere to expected expectations required within. None should be unjustly mistreated for the selfish ways and innuendos of another for no legitimate reason. Unity and on one accord to forward the best for all within an acceptable protocol should be expected from all that our world progress into maturity with unity and the best interests to make it a better world should be the mindset of a purposed driven society regardless of what country is involved. A world that stands together is far more better than a world that stands apart. Our destiny to prevail shouldn’t be controlled by one that don’t even know his own, but should be lead on a path of righteous ways that he may have a guide to allow him the ability to do the right thing in one’s endeavors.

Posted by: Nisey01 | April 5, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Medevev is extending an olive branch to the US. We had peaceful co-existence with the Communist Soviet Union. We also are just as guilty of using torture. although hopefully, only in the past. We don't need to be reminded that the US and Russia are the two main superpowers and it would be better to be on the good side of each other than having the shoe on the other foot. Obama needs to get the question of US defensive missles in Eastern Europe answered or else we and the Russians won't be on the same page. Better to protect ouselvers from North Korea and Iran than to worry about Russia. We need to adhere to the policy of non-proliferation that Obamam spoke about recently and scrap the missle project if we're to win co-operation from Medevev. The Russians have a point--why do we need a deterent aimed at Russia at this time in history

Posted by: jregan2006 | April 6, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

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